Why do we need food?
Food is an essential to human survival. Food provides the body with needed energy to carry out life-sustaining activities. Our bodies use energy to sleep, digest, think/learn, exercise, and perform any day-to-day activities. To work as a strong unit, the body needs a mix of food, water, and sleep. Without the proper intake of energy, the body is incapable of performing even the most basic functions, such as absorbing energy or producing heat . If we don’t give our body the right amount/type of nutrients, our health will decline. Without balancing how much we take in and how much we expend (a concept known as energy balance), we can end up losing muscle and fat, storing extra energy as fat, or being nutritionally deficient – any one of these can lead to chronic diseases, cardiovascular disease, heart attack, and other problems. That said, it’s extremely important that we get the right amount and type of energy. Our bodies run on multiple types of fuel, all of which are important. Here’s more about each type of nutrient:
The Fuel Our Bodies Run On
Food can be broken down into three main groups of macronutrients: carbohydrates, fats, and protein. Intake of each subgroup is important for overall health and proper bodily function. Each group provides the body with fuel in unique ways. At rest and during normal activities, fats contribute 80-90% of our energy; carbohydrates provide 5-18% and protein about 2-5% of energy needs.
How much? Carbohydrate intake should be a range of 45-65% of total calories, varying depending on our activity levels.
Use: When carbohydrates are ingested, they are stored in the body as glycogen. There are multiple types of carb stores in the body that act as energy sources within the body. Stored glycogen (carbohydrate fuel stores) is used as a preferred fuel source in sporting activities.
Fun fact: If you hear someone saying they are “carbo-loading”, this means they are building up their internal carbohydrate stores for strenuous exercise (exercise that lasts more than an hour). This is something athletes might do for running, swimming and/or biking to provide themself with long-lasting energy during exhausting exercise. Even though carbs are often viewed negatively, they’re quite important.
How much? Fat intake should be around 20-35% of total calories.
Use: Fat is very crucial for our diets. Fat provides the body with energy, insulation, and protection. Our bodies use fat as energy for majority of activities we do during the day.
Extra details: Fat can be divided into saturated and unsaturated fat. Saturated fats are normally solid at room temperature and come from meat, dairy, and some plant sources (such as coconut, palm and palm kernel oils). High intake of saturated fats can raise cholesterol levels and increase your risk of developing cardiovascular disease and comorbidities such as diabetes and metabolic syndrome. However, saturated fats aren’t completely harmful; they also help keep rigidity in blood vessels. Saturated fats are simply the kind of thing that is not meant to be over or under done. Unsaturated fats are liquid at room temperature and come primarily from plant foods such as nuts and seeds.Unsaturated fats aren’t so closely related to cardiovascular disease, so they’re consider a heart-healthy fat. Fat should never be excluded from the diet. When consuming fat, look for unsaturated sources or healthy fats such as cooking with olive oil and canola oil instead of butter or crisco. Nuts, seeds and avocados all contain healthy fats as well.
How much? Our protein intake should be between range of 10-35% of total calories. The Recommended Dietary Allowance (RDA) for protein is 0.8 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight; this is the generally accepted amount that is required for all of the processes that protein is used in. Consuming very high amounts of protein (more than 1.5 g per kilogram of body weight) can lead to kidney damage. Protein needs are increased for persons who are very active, fighting diseases and/or those are injured.
Use: Protein has a wide variety of purposes within the body. It assists with key functions in the body such as repair/maintenance, energy creation, hormone/enzyme synthesis, and immunity.
Fun facts: Protein can be obtained through a variety of sources. Meat is a common protein source, but high-quality protein can be obtained through plant foods as well. Sources of protein include lean meats, plants, dairy, and dietary supplements. However we source our protein sources, they should be low in saturated fats and processed carbohydrates. Keep in mind that it’s best to consume protein in smaller amount throughout the day then all at once at the end of the day.
For Further Information…
If you have further questions on the correct intakes of carbohydrates, fats and proteins, please contact a Registered Dietitian or check out these reliable online resources.